02/21/2012 09:07 am ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

Why Santorum

American electoral politics has become as close to a random phenomenon as public life ever gets. Obama and Palin in 2008 established that truth. The Republican contest, now in its second year, has confirmed it. Just about anything can happen. The causal sequence is about as hard to discern as is figuring out why the green no. 6 billiard ball arrived in the side left pocket of the table after the wedge has been scattered by a turbo-powered cue ball. That is the permissive factor. But why someone as improbable as Rick Santorum? An ineffectual, nondescript, right-wing senator, a defeated candidate for reelection in Pennsylvania, a lucrative spell as a D.C. lobbyist, a penchant for outrageous statements and outlandish policy ideas. For months, he was the afterthought in the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs TV series whose performances were met with a chorus of "what's he doing up there?"

Here are a few thoughts -- even while keeping in mind that he simply may be the orange no. 3 ball dropping into the far right pocket. One is that he is the latest beneficiary of the hardcore Tea Partiers' ferocious dedication to having someone, anyone, who will give voice loudly and publicly to the warped emotions that torment them. Ever since Sarah Palin realized their impossible dream of having things said on the public stage (and getting the rapt attention of the media) which previously were heard only around the dinette table or on the steps of the trailer home, they have become addicted to a daily ration of raw meat. Whomever could feed them was given the full devotion of the addict to the dealer. So we had in succession: Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich. Each in turn got busted by the straight primary voters or O.D.'d on his self-infatuation. That left the forgotten guy in the back row who somehow had managed to stick around. So Rick Santorum became the new savior.

A contributing factor was Mitt Romney -- the last best hope of traditional Republicans. An awkward recent convert to know-nothingness who lacks either the personal charm or political street smarts to offset it. He still looked like the inevitable candidate to represent the GOP in the November contest against the old-style 'moderate Republican' who occupies the White House -- Barack Obama. For true conservatives (not the radical reactionaries who have come to terrorize them), this was the best of all worlds. A Romney victory would give them more complete and unchallenged control over the apparatus of government along with the power they crave. Failure to unseat the accommodating Obama merely meant that the establishment powers need only to continue the strategy which has given them so many boons since January 2009. Nothing to worry about. A win-win situation. But then the unthinkable happened: Romney has begun to tank again while the Tea Partiers will not relent. The specter of Rick Santorum rose up from depths. Even were Romney to stagger, through, his candidacy is so shot with holes that it could sink beneath the waves before election day.

This unexpected occurrence seems likely to save the Democrats from another extended sojourn in the wilderness. The Romney-Santorum dynamic shifts the odds in Obama's favor, despite his own fragile hold on the minds and hearts of voters. That brings a thin smile to the lips of the Blue Dogs and elicits great sighs of relief among self-satisfied liberals proud of their pragmatic virtue -- even though all the latter will get out of it is, maybe, another Supreme Court nominee who will vote only to nibble at the edges of Roe v. Wade. The Republican power brokers nonetheless will do their all to prevent that from happening. The situational logic points inexorably to finding another alternative: e.g. Governors Christie of New Jersey or Daniels of Indiana or whomever. The first two come with their own heavy baggage. But what's baggage when you can marshal half a billion or so to airbrush the past and to promote a new, improved product? Admittedly time is pressing. It is not like the old days when it was possible to draft a white knight at the convention because there were so many uncommitted delegates and those held as bargaining chips by favorite sons. So the hand-picked candidate must be selected quickly. That makes it likely that the lucky soul will be low-hanging fruit, i.e. a recognizable if not entirely known quantity like Christie.

The hard right-wingers, of course, will cry bloody murder as they grasp ever more tightly onto Santorum. Some of the Christian fundamentalists will even argue that low-hanging fruit could be lethal -- after all, look at what happened when it was plucked in the Garden of Eden. A titanic battle could ensue, pitting old money represented by the business elite against the Tea Party throng bankrolled by the new money of eccentric billionaires from the southwest. For those distressed by this prospect, keep in mind that a fresh round of debates with Rick Santorum squaring off against Mr. or Ms. 'X' may be in the offing. Just when the arrival on our screens of the summer reruns makes us desperate for entertainment.